volunteer recruitment strategy

Why Isn’t Your Volunteer Recruitment Strategy Working?

Attracting and retaining the right talent requires that you develop a volunteer recruitment strategy that works.  With a broad range of tactics, it can be difficult to determine which you should be using as your primary volunteer recruitment approach.

Tactics are akin to your “To Do” list — they have to be done, but they aren’t necessarily going to help you solve the underlying reason why you don’t have an active and engaged team of volunteers on board.  

A strategy involves higher-level analytical thinking — it requires you to make an objective assessment of what’s going on and develop a response that makes sense in your specific environment.  

Tactics are commonly used.  A defined volunteer recruitment strategy is rare in nonprofits,  but more effective in the long-run.

Self Diagnosis: Why Don’t You Have the Volunteers You Need?

Volunteer recruitment strategies are a dime a dozen.  But which ones really work to bring in the volunteers you really need? 

And is there a magic wand that can make it all happen? 

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “If you build it, they will come”, a line attributed to the movie Field of Dreams. If you haven’t heard of the movie or seen it, it’s the story of a man who was called to follow his dreams by a voice in his head and so he did and he was successful. Thus, the mantra “if you build it, they will come” was born.  

A mantra that is great for a movie with a neat, tidy ending; however, not so great for the real world.  

In fact, in doing research for this blog post, I found out that the mantra is not even what was said in the movie! The quote is “if you build it, HE will come.”   

As in one person.  

Not ideal when you’ve put a lot on the line to make your dreams come true! But again, it fits the theme of the movie.  

Also, this is a common fallacy in the volunteer management world.  

Volunteer programs aren’t a “field of dreams” that attract volunteers and keep them coming back automatically. You can’t simply build it and they (he) will come.  

You need a smart strategy to define, call attention to, and attract your ideal volunteers. 

Ready for some strategy?  Read on to diagnose and address the root problem completely, so you can start getting traction.

You haven’t spread the word past your inner circle

Yes, your volunteer workforce may already include women, people with disabilities, youth, minority people of color, veterans, refugees and immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ communities. But don’t get ahead of yourself.

Through careful surveying and analysis, determine the demographics of current volunteers, those of the communities you are serving, and recognize the gaps in diversity.

This step will allow you to make a data-informed decision when choosing the specific communities you’ll actively seek to recruit.

Your message isn’t compelling enough

There is a surprising trend in volunteer recruitment messaging that entices potential volunteers to click on your ad: it’s the social construct of reciprocity. Reciprocity is one of those social norms we live by.  No matter where we come from, we feel obligated to return a favor, even if it is unsolicited and no response is expected.

Researchers believe this behavior has evolved in order to keep the majority of human transactions “fair.”  It’s basically helped us cooperate and survive as a species.  And we are, even today, hard-wired to follow the rule of reciprocity.  It simply compels us to act. Learn more here.

Your call to action (CTA) is too vague

It is so important to give specific instruction on next steps to take right away. If the audience for your call for volunteers is already familiar with your organization and has been involved in other ways, your CTA can appear in the first line or two of your message. For other audiences, it may be better placed at the conclusion of your emotional appeal. 

In your CTA, you are already building a relationship with a prospective applicant. Start it off with a warm welcome. Invite them to “Click Here” and include “to be taken to a 3-minute online application”, or “Call 555-5555 between 8 – 5 and speak with Angie or Rob for more details”. This counters a good bit of apprehension and clarifies expectations, which builds trust. 

Your application process isn’t consumer-friendly

Volunteer applications don’t have to be all about the vital information you are gathering! This is a great place to start showing your volunteers that your organization prioritizes the interests, safety, and wellbeing of everyone. This spring is a great time to re-vamp your volunteer application to ensure you are using inclusive language.  

You don’t tailor your opportunities to accommodate volunteer motivations

Volunteer motivations can be altruistic, meaning the volunteer has a desire to help others for the greater good, and/or instrumental, meaning they are volunteering to meet their own self-interests.  

We talk a lot about volunteer motivations in our work because there is a body of evidence that validates their importance in every stage of the volunteer lifecycle.  

When you continuously evaluate volunteer motivations, you’ll be sure to attract volunteers who will be committed to staying involved.

Don’t leave it all up to chance.  Understanding your program’s specific needs, and then analyzing the volunteer skills required to meet those needs, will help you better connect with the right people to support your program.  And then, forming teams who work together toward common goals, will help your program make the most of what your supporters have to offer.

Below is a simple process you can use to to do just that.  Ask your volunteers and staff to help you work through this process.  All that’s required is pens, post-its, a blank wall, and some thoughtful people.

Volunteer “Helpforce” Needs Analysis: 10 Steps

recruit a volunteer helpforce

  • Step 1 — Brainstorm all of the tasks that need to be completed at the program.  Do not separate out paid and volunteer duties yet.
  • Step 2 — Write one task per post-it, and try to be as exhaustive as possible.  Don’t yet decide who will be responsible for each task. Put them all up on the wall.
  • Step 3 — Identify which tasks can only be done by paid staff.  Be open-minded — there are probably very few tasks that absolutely must be done by paid staff.
  • Step 4 — Remove paid staff responsibilities from the larger group, and cluster them together.
  • Step 5 — Then, cluster the remaining tasks into groups of similar duties that make sense together.  These are your teams.
  • Step 6 — Name them, and type up a team description with a bullet list of tasks, transcribed from the post-its.
  • Step 7 — Identify which paid staff will support which team.  Consider how you will use paid staff to fill in when there are volunteer vacancies or absences, or when there are a higher than normal service volumes.
  • Step 8 — Create one-page volunteer position descriptions for the jobs that would be needed to perform each team’s tasks.  In them, describe the “must-have” and “need to have” skill sets needed for each job.
  • Step 9 — Prioritize which positions need to be filled first.  You can’t recruit them all at once, so pick the ones that will have the most impact with the least training investment at the outset.
  • Step 10 — Finally, recruit for those positions; be clear about what skills are necessary for each job.

Volunteer Applicants Have Unexpressed Concerns

The barriers volunteers experience vary from person to person, based on their own past experience and current set of life challenges.  They might also be precipitated by the volunteer’s own identity and sense of self.  If they are insecure about their capabilities, for example, they may be unable to ultimately make a commitment without some reassurance from you and others.

If you ask potential supporters what worries them, they likely can’t or won’t tell you — anxiety is a private matter for most, and not easily shared with strangers.  Alternately, their concerns may be subconscious, nagging thoughts that they couldn’t put a name to if they tried.  So, as a volunteer recruiter, it’s up to you to predict the unexpressed concerns of your volunteer applicants and address them in your recruitment appeals.

Volunteer recruitment involves more than just posting information about your job openings and waiting for responses.  It also involves some complex psychological processes, believe it or not, and you must be able to overcome objections to common barriers to volunteering. Prospective volunteers have worries that differ from long-term volunteers.

No matter how friendly your organization or how powerful your mission, volunteers must overcome a few emotional barriers and worries before they will commit (or even answer your recruitment ad).  Your recruitment materials must provide the critical information they need to calm their anxieties.  Then, and only then, can you set the stage for success.

Common Barriers to Volunteering

  • Will they accept my application?
  • Do I really have enough time?
  • Can I afford it (the transportation, childcare, time off work, etc.)?
  • What exactly will they be asking me to do?
  • Will I be comfortable doing it?
  • Will I fit in with others?
  • Will I be treated kindly?
  • Will I know what to do and how to do it?
  • Will I be safe?
  • Will I have a real impact?

Overcoming Barriers 

So, what can you do to calm any trepidations your supporters may have about volunteering?  First of all, take them seriously.  Think about the language and photos you use to describe your volunteer opportunities.  Can you use them to answer some of the questions that arise?  What about testimonials from other volunteers and people you serve; can they help? 

Finally, although your volunteer postings are usually short, can you provide a link to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on your website?  These are but a few things you can do to eliminate the internal psychological barriers that keep people from joining your team.

Six Volunteer Recruitment Techniques That Will Make You Shine

volunteer recruitment ideas

If your phone’s not ringing off the hook (or your email inbox isn’t full) with inquiries about your volunteer openings, maybe it’s time to take another look at your volunteer recruitment techniques. I  mean a good, hard, honest look.  Are they boring or do they inspire you?  Would you answer your own volunteer posting?  If not, it’s time to renovate!

Here are six ways to transform a lifeless recruitment ad into a compelling inspiration to join the crowd that is making a BIG difference.

Pump Up Your Volunteer Recruitment Techniques With Engaging Ads

1) Include Inspired Testimonials —  Drop in a couple of short and sweet quotes from current volunteers about why volunteering is so valuable to them.  Better yet, include testimonials from the people who have benefited from your program about how it has changed their life.  To protect their privacy, include just their first name and last initial.  To make them more personable include the city or neighborhood where they live.

2) Use Eye-Catching Photos — Spice it up with a couple of photos of your volunteers in action.  You don’t need to show a lot of detail.  Close-ups of a group of diverse people smiling up at the camera are all you need.  Do not use stock photos, rather include real folks in all their glory.

If you are trying to cultivate a specific group of people, make absolutely sure they are pictured.  If you haven’t reached that community yet, include a photo with a cut-out and ask “who’s missing from this picture?” and then make a pitch for their inclusion.  Also, include a testimonial from someone from that community who can vouch for you.

3) Watch Your Words — Remove all jargon, acronyms, taboo words, and complicated language from your appeals — this includes your mission statement if it is lackluster.  You make the call.  When you use jargon, nobody knows what you’re talking about, and they get turned off fast.  Your appeals should be written to a 6th-grade reading level, regardless of who you are trying to reach.  You can check the reading level using your word processing software.

4) Always Use a Call to Action — A call to action specifically describes what you would like the reader to do.  “Volunteer today!” is not a compelling call to action.  “Call Jennifer at (206) 756-1234 to get an application packet today!” gives more specific info.

5) Connect with Real People — Put the names, phone numbers, and emails of the person in charge of recruiting in each ad.  Prospective volunteers will be more attracted to you if they see they’ll be able to connect with a real human being, versus a nameless, faceless switchboard or info@nonprofit.org inbox.

6) Leverage Your Organization’s Web Page — Use your agency’s web page to provide more in-depth information that you can’t include in a short ad, and provide the link in your appeal.  Also, make sure your agency’s home page has a highly-visible link to volunteer info.  Post volunteer applications, training program information, and recent successes, team photos, and videos of your volunteers in action.  Update this content often (a great job for volunteers!); this will demonstrate to applicants that you are a group that’s on the move and making a difference.